It’s been a nearly three rough year for New Jersey’s vital workforce between who knows how many COVID deaths and long-range cases of the vexing virus and a 20 to 24 percent hike in healthcare premiums. Whether you a Whether you’re a caregiver, nurse, or security guard in a community, you’re also feeling the pinch of near-record inflation and record corporate profit-taking.
And while society has seemingly moved away from COVID, if you have to work in a healthcare or nursing facility, the risks of COVID remain, even if the country accepts 300 deaths a day as acceptable.
Almost six months have passed since then Dozens of unionized workers, some with their children in tow, walked the corridors of Trenton’s Capitol Building hoping for a chance to make their case for hazard deductions with Senate President Nicholas Scutari or House Speaker Craig Coughlin.
Back in JuneThe key workers’ delegation presented a letter to legislators signed by several union leaders, including Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO, praising $100 million for hazard pay of what was then $3 billion in excess aid from the state’s American Rescue Plan.
“Throughout the pandemic, workers whose jobs put them at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 have been hailed as essential workers and heroes,” the union leaders wrote. “Such praise, welcome as it may be, has done nothing to improve the material living conditions of these workers or compensate them for the additional risks they have endured.”
The state-run AFL-CIO’s modest proposal would limit hazard pay to workers who belonged to vaccination eligibility groups 1a or 1b and worked at least 500 hours from March 16, 2020 until May 7, 2021, when vaccines finally became widely available have done . Full-time employees receive $1,000 and part-time employees receive $500. Only workers whose annual income is 100 percent of the state’s median annual wage for all occupations, which is $67,120, would be eligible.
America’s rescue plan specifically authorized state and local governments to use their federal COVID relief funds for hazard pay.
“We had within the New Jersey Transit ATU representing 5,000 bus drivers — they’ve had a lot of deaths and a lot of illnesses — the United Food & Commercial Workers who were on the front lines — as were the nurses and everyone else,” Wowkaneck said during an interview at his Trenton office in June. “They were in the Shop Rites and the ACMES, which in the very beginning, before vaccination, before PPE, had food on the shelves, there was a lot of disease, a lot of death in all these unions.”
The NJ AFL-CIO leader continued. “We strongly believe that much of this money that came out of Washington that Biden is talking about should go towards helping working families. Many of these unions and their families have suffered tremendously, and we just don’t think it’s asking too much to give special consideration when we mention dangerous wages. These people went to work every day in fear of bringing the virus home to their families and children. In fact, that’s what happened.”
“Healthcare workers have been exposed to unsafe working conditions — they’ve contracted COVID — they got sick — sometimes with long-term COVID, and some died,” said Debbie White, president of Health Professional & Allied Employees, the state’s largest health care worker union, in an interview before the Senate President’s office in June.
Since last year PBS reports “About a third of US states had used federal COVID-19 relief assistance to reward workers who were deemed essential who qualified and how much they received very different, according to an Associated Press assessment.”
“A Nov. 18 list of state allocations for hazard and bounty payments provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that funds were typically reserved for government employees such as state police officers and correctional officers,” according to PBS.
Here in New Jersey, the city of Trenton has done exactly the same thing in terms of hazard pay County Burlington. But acc Kevin Brown, the Vice President and NJ State Director for SEIU’s 32 BJ, the state of New Jersey has not even done so Connecticut Lawmakers committed to returning to a special session after Thanksgiving to partially enact a provision on hazard pay for the state’s key workers.
“Essential workers remain essential, and as such it is the legislature’s responsibility to ensure they are adequately compensated for everything they do,” Brown wrote in response to an InsiderNJ query. “Hazard pay continues to be in the air in NJ and quite frankly we don’t understand why. Connecticut is having a special session to negotiate more money, so why can’t we? As we gather this holiday season, we want the staff to know how much we appreciate them and everything they do. We call on the legislator to reconsider the hazard pay.”
Connecticut is not alone. Minnesota paid an estimated $500 million in hazard pay to 667,000 essential workers with payments totaling $750, while Puerto Rico, which was struggling with fiscal problems of its own, committed $200 million to make $2,000 in payments to essential workers.
Already in June Janet Booker, safety officer and shift supervisor at Bristols Meyers in Summit, was part of the Trenton delegation from 32 BJ SEIU. It was Booker who delivered the letter to Scutari’s then-Chief of Staff Tony Teixeira, who emerged from the Senate President’s office to greet the large group.
“Basically we need our hazard money – we’ve worked through the pandemic and we’ve had a lot of employees who’ve lost family members – we’ve had a lot of security officers who have become the sole breadwinners of their families – a lot of them have had to quit their jobs, give up their cars and we deserve that pay,” Booker told Teixeira. “We protected the site. We did temperature checks. We got everyone to safety. Now we should be compensated for our hard work. I hope you take this into account and have a wonderful day.”
Teixeira promised to forward the letter to Senate President Scutari. He told Booker he was “aware” that he was “one of the lucky ones working for the state,” so he “didn’t feel it.” [the pandemic] like others liked my friends, family and neighbors.”
As a matter of fact. Teixeira obviously had his own ‘hazard pay‘Deal on.
This week, before US District Judge John Michael Vazquez, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of tax evasion.
According to court filings and federal prosecutor filings from 2014 to 2018, “Teixeira conspired with Sean Caddle and Caddles to defraud political consulting firms of $107,800 to various campaigns, political action committees and 501(c)(4) organizations. Teixeira then failed to report this illicit income on tax forms he filed with the IRS in those same years.”
Caddle was hired by a former New Jersey state senator to create the PACs and 501(c)(4)s so they could raise and spend money to lobby on a variety of issues, including supporting specific candidates at local races in New Jersey,” according to a press release from New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger. “Teixeira served as the senator’s chief of staff, influencing the consultants who hired the campaigns and organizations and the budgets each of those organizations would receive.”
Prosecutors say Teixeira and Caddle conspired to “falsely inflate bills that Caddy’s consulting firms submitted to the campaigns, PACs and 501(c)(4)s with false campaign-related expenses” and that Teixeira received more than $100,000 received and “never reported that” money on the tax forms he filed with the IRS.
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